Everybody likes new beginnings, fresh starts. Having said that, I also believe in continuity and faithfulness to the task at hand or, in the way I sign off my letters, “Pressing On.” There is much value in positive, forward thinking. I understand that the Greek god Janus, from whom we get the name for the month January, has two faces. One looks backward with a frown, and the other ahead with a confident smile. Paul, the early Church’s missionary and gospel preacher, was once Saul of Tarsus, menace and persecutor. But an encounter with the resurrected Jesus transformed his life. He made a startling statement in Phil. 3:13-14 that can help us have a fresh start, and press on as Christians in our faith, work, and witness, no matter what.
Paul declared: “This one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul was Christianity’s greatest theologian, a well-traveled missionary, evangelist, church planter, pastor, and minister. In fact, over half the literature and library we call the New Testament was penned by this apostle. What didn’t he do? Yet amazingly, he was a specialist in singleness of purpose, acutely focused with dogged determination to do one thing: press on! This he did quite simply by forgetting what was behind him and focusing on what was before (v.13). What does this mean and how can it motivate me?
Elimination: Forget what lies behind
At times I wish my mind had “total recall,” yet I’ve often coveted the gracious gift of forgetfulness for some of life’s painful situations. Surely Paul is not referring to a state of mind that forgets history, one’s responsibility, or all God’s benefits and blessing (Ps. 103:2). Rather, this a selective forgetfulness that chooses not to dwell on those aspects from the past that interfere with or ruin living well in the present. Anxiety can clog what we ought to do here and now. Worries are yesterday’s mice eating today’s cheese!
First, past sins must be put away. Our failures and short-comings from the past can haunt us and soon hinder us from effective service, holding us back from receiving what God has for us now! Why do we dig up and fish for that which God does not hold against us, but has buried in the depths of the sea (Is. 38:17; Ps. 51:7, 103:12; Mic. 7:19)? If the Devil reminds us of these things, we must remind him of God’s abundant mercy and grace. Apart from “besetting sins,” there are “weights” to cast off that slow us down in this race of life (Heb. 12:1).
Second, surprisingly, past successes must put aside. Paul uses the analogy of a Greek marathon runner. How true it is that our past victories can make us conceited, or so content that we become complacent, mediocre, and lethargic. But notice it is not just the bad things Paul was laying aside, but also the good for the best–what he once counted as gain (i.e. his worldly accomplishments and self-righteousness). Now that’s hard! It is precisely here that we must ask why Paul delibrately embraced such a view?
Exertion: Focus on what lies ahead
Winston Churchill once warned, “If the present quarrels with the past there can be no future.” And I believe it was Bonhoeffer, who came out of a Nazi camp, who said, “He who has a ‘why’ for living can face the ‘how’ of life’s struggles.” Paul’s life’s ambition (Phil. 3:10) placed him among the “unstoppables,” and in his image of an athlete we see two clear motivational factors: the mark (i.e. his goal) and what he reckoned as the prize or reward (i.e. his gain).
First, consider the challenge Paul’s goal posited. It made him concentrate and press on–to reach out, stretch, and strain every muscle to get his body into motion. There was a cause as well as a cost. Winning the prize meant paying the price–the discipline and audacity to keep on keeping on. There is only one place where success comes before work: the English Dictionary. Everywhere else it’s “no pain, no gain.” It is incredible to see what a deep sense of what my destiny is can do to me and for me.
Next, consider the crown Paul’s reward promised. Where Paul was heading determined what he chose to leave behind, as well as his perspective on those things he was leaving behind. Things he once deemed as gain he now calculated as loss, even “dung” in exchange for knowing, being found in, and becoming like a person: his Lord, Jesus. His destiny was not a place, but to be with Christ, a treasure and “pearl of great price” worth trading for everything else in life. In Paul’s sanctified aspiration, we find no “I can” activism or “maybe” passivism, but a sure and steadfast hope. Not a fading earthly crown (stephenos) but Christ was his Vision, Mission, and Ambition!
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, pronounced, “I am willing to go anywhere, as long as it is forward, onward, and Christward.” Let us with undivided hearts not look back and worry, but count the cost and press on toward this high and upward call in Christ Jesus. The winner of the Greek Olympics was given much honor. An effigy of his face was carved in marble and he was given a front seat in every game. He was exempted from paying taxes to Rome, but most of all, he would receive a crown, that laurel wreath from Caesar himself. My goal is to be with Christ and one day hear Him say to me, “Well done My good and faithful servant.” Till then, may we also demonstrate that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Remember: the Christian’s past is under the blood–forget it; the present is under the cross–live it; the future is under the crown–go for it!
Pressing On! – Chris Gnanakan